Wholemeal Loaf

My first job was at a hotel and restaurant in a local village. I was employed there to work at the reception desk in the mornings. One morning I arrived to find the head chef having a blazing row with the owner as the breakfast chef had walked out. The owner, in a bid to calm down the chef volunteered me to help in the kitchen. I was terrified as I hadn’t ever set foot in a professional kitchen and the restaurant was chasing a Michelin star. I was taken to a blisteringly hot corner, shown an enormous mixer on the floor and told to make bread; 20 loaves of bread to be exact! To cut a long story short, my terror turned very quickly to enjoyment and 10 years later I still love making bread.

Bread-baking lends itself brilliantly to life with a baby. Although it takes a while to make, the work isn’t constant. You can spend 10 minutes with it and then walk away for an hour. The taste of homemade bread is unlike anything you can buy pre-sliced, and it contains far less ingredients. I checked a loaf of supermarket wholemeal bread yesterday and it contained 22 ingredients, including more sugar and salt than I am happy to feed Will. I don’t pretend that he is never exposed to sugar or salt, he is. But as far as possible I try to limit these, frankly unnecessary ingredients.

This wholemeal loaf recipe contains six ingredients and absolutely no nasties. It is a modified version of the recipe I used to follow before I became a Mum. This one has as little salt as possible (you need some for flavour and to inhibit the yeast). The same goes for the sugar content; I use light brown sugar as it is less refined than white sugar, and I have reduced the quantity as much as possible. It is a wonderful ‘every day’ bread with a great texture and a lovely taste. I do use a mixture of wholemeal and white bread flour to make the texture soft enough for little mouths.

Ingredients

  • 400g Strong wholemeal flour
  • 100g Strong white bread flour
  • 1tsp salt
  • 2tsp fast acting yeast
  • 10g light brown sugar
  • 30ml olive oil plus a little extra for your proving bowl
  • 310ml-330ml of water (the water quantity you need to make the dough will vary depending on the day, on a wet day you will need less water than a hot dry day. Be led by the dough and stop adding water when it holds together as a nice ball of dough

Method

  • Weigh your flour and add to a large bowl
  • Add the salt, yeast and sugar ensuring the yeast and salt are kept apart
  • stir the dry ingredients together and make a well
  • Add the oil and some water (around 50ml)
  • Start mixing by hand or if using a mixer with a dough hook, start mixer on low
  • slowly add water until the dough holds together and is play-dough like
  • knead for 10-15 minutes either in mixer or by hand until your dough is elastic, you want to be able to pull a section of it until it is thin enough to see through
  • At this stage grease your mixing bowl, place the dough back in it and loosely cover with cling film
  • Leave to prove somewhere warm if possible for an hour or longer, until the dough has doubled in size and bounces back if you push a finger into it
  • Knock the dough back for 5 minutes and shape your loaf, I tend to make this load round or oval.
  • If you want to have any pattern on the loaf use a serrated knife or a lame if you have one to cut the design into your loaf
  • Re-cover with the cling film loosely and put back somewhere warm for 30 minutes
  • Preheat oven to 200 C.
  • Put loaf in and bake for 30 minutes, the loaf should be a gorgeous brown and the bottom should feel hollow to tap.
  • Leave to cool on a wire rack, or enjoy a hot slice with lots of butter!

Your house will smell amazing as this cooks and it will keep (thanks to the addition of the olive oil) for at least 3 days, not that it ever lasts that long in my house! This loaf has a nice crust but to make it a crisper crust spray some water into the oven to create steam when the loaf goes in.

It may seem time consuming but I promise its relatively low effort cooking and the reward you get it phenomenal. Once you start making bread you won’t be able to stop!

 

 

 

Salmon & Leek Risotto

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Its nearly the end of June, it’s raining, its foggy and we all have colds. All in all its a grumpy house this week. Will is frustrated if we stay in all day but gets too tired and overwhelmed if we are out for too long, which is making it hard to know what to do with him! This morning we went to a soft play centre which he enjoyed for about half a hour before turning back into to a little cuddly, grizzly boy. I’m not complaining though, having a cold is horrid and he is never normally cuddly so in some ways it’s nice (for me). His body is obviously fighting hard to get him better as he is also napping a lot! He has currently been asleep for over an hour which is unheard of in the afternoon for him!

As I wrote that previous sentence he woke up, when will I ever learn!? DON’T MENTION GOOD NAPS! 

Anyway, my point was that both the weather and everyone being under the weather, meant comfort food was definitely in order for supper! Comfort food for me is bowl food – the kind of thing you can eat with just a fork. Risotto is perfect comfort food, and this salmon and leek version manages to feel both warm and cosy, as well as light and summery. It’s not hard to make either, but as with all risotto it does take some serene stirring.

To make it baby friendly there are a few sacrifices  compromises. They aren’t actually sacrifices, as it’s delicious and full-flavoured without them. There is no white wine added, although the lightness of the salmon and leek come through more as a result. It really isn’t missed in this particular recipe. There is also a lack of salt so it can feel under seasoned, but I have a trick for this which will become clear in the recipe method!

Ingredients

This is enough for 2 adults and 1 baby portion. 

  • 1 salmon fillet, deskinned
  • 75g smoked salmon
  • 200g arborio rice
  • 1 leek
  • Low salt vegetable stock cube
  • 3 tablespoons of peas
  • Small bunch of dill
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • knob of unsalted butter

Method

  • Finely slice the leek, leaving the top 2 inches of green leek for later
  • De-skin and chop the fresh salmon fillet
  • Add leek to a large sauté pan with half of the butter and soften (don’t let them colour)
  • Add the rice to the leeks and stir to coat in the butter
  • Add the stock cube to a saucepan of hot water and bring to simmer (roughly a litre of water should be fine but if you run out just add more water to your saucepan)
  • Add a couple of ladles of the stock, the fresh salmon and stir
  • Keep adding more stock as the rice absorbs whats in the pan, stirring periodically to prevent it sticking. I like to use a wooden fork for stirring as it prevents the rice from breaking down.
  • When the rice is soft but still too hard to eat (after roughly 15 minutes) add the peas and the lemon zest
  • Finely chop the dill
  • Slice the smoked salmon into thin strips
  • Finely slice lengths of the green leek top
  • Once the rice is cooked and the liquid absorbed (20-30 minutes), turn the heat off, add the remaining butter, the dill and roughly two thirds of the smoked salmon, and stir to combine.
  • Remove the baby portion
  • For the adult portions, I add the rest of the smoked salmon on top, with some of the green leek and a generous crack of black pepper.

Adding the rest of the smoked salmon to the adult portions ensures that the baby portion isn’t too salty, and the adult portions’ become adequately seasoned. I like to add the raw leek as it provides a fresh taste as well as a contrasting texture from the smooth creaminess of the risotto.

Risotto is excellent baby food as it is so versatile: you can feed it in a variety of ways. For baby led weaning you could simply squash the peas and pop this, once cooled a little on a plate/highchair tray (messy but effective). You can also wait for the risotto to cool, mash the peas and roll it into balls the size of a walnut. These can be coated in parmesan and bread crumbs and lightly fried to create finger food. Finally you can pop it all in a blender and puree to you required consistency. This is what I have done today as when Will isn’t well he prefers to be fed by me.

What are your favourite comfort foods? I’d love to know!

 

 

The End of Maternity Leave

 

 

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His first morning at home

I always knew that my maternity leave would come to an end, but when I received an email from my boss with the subject ‘return to work meeting’ I was utterly gobsmacked! Have I really spent a WHOLE year off work? The answer it would seem, is yes – and so begins my transition from full-time Mum to full-time working Mum; and to be honest I’m not sure how I feel about it yet.

 

I tend to get the same, clichéd responses from people when I mention returning to work, that tend to revolve around the idea that it will be ‘nice for me to have adult conversations again’ or that it will be good to do something ‘just for me’, or that it will be ‘a nice break from being at home’. I’m pretty sure that none of these people have ever worked full-time with a baby. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes (usually after a long day with a baby that hasn’t napped) I do think that being at work would be easier than being a stay- home mum, but this is short-lived. The reality, I feel, is going to be quite different! I like to think I’m organised, but some days I struggle to get my son and I dressed, fed and ready to leave the house by 9am, so how I will manage all this an hour earlier is utterly beyond me! I also haven’t been away from my job long enough to describe it as ‘a break’, I can still vividly remember leaving late, missing lunch breaks and running around like a headless chicken trying to meet deadlines. The truth is though, that I love my job, I always have. I have wonderful work colleagues and I want to return to work, I just have some concerns.

Aside from the fact that I still can’t do up any of the skirts and dresses I used to wear to work, the most obvious concern I have is leaving Will at nursery.  I thought choosing a nursery would be really difficult. I planned to visit lots, I read up on what questions I should ask and what I should look for. In the end though, it was and easy decision. I visited a Montessori nursery and instantly felt it was the right place for Will.  As with all parenting, sometimes its best to just go with your gut. So at least I’m content that he’s going to be looked after somewhere excellent. But I still haven’t really got to grips with the idea of leaving him every day; I haven’t left him for longer than a few hours yet, so that’s going to be a struggle for him and for me.

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First sand castle (well, sort of, it was my sandcastle really, he bashed at it with a  rake and then face-planted it).

 

I’m sure I’m not the only Mum who is concerned that they may have de-skilled after a year at home looking after their children. My profession (I’m a hospital pharmacist) changes rapidly and keeping abreast of the changes takes work; work that for the last year I haven’t done – at all! What I have done however, is gained a whole range of new, transferable, and infinitely more useful skills. I never appreciated just how much us Mums multitask: I can now do a huge number of things at once, one-handed, whilst wrestling a baby. I don’t expect my drinks to be hot or my meals to be on time, and I can (just about) function on next to no sleep! Us Mums are able to prioritise everything but ourselves on a daily basis; parenting truly makes you selfless and this is a wonderful attribute. So de-skilled? Absolutely not!

If Motherhood has taught me anything in the last year though, its that I am so much stronger, and so much more capable than I thought I was. Looking after a baby can be a real challenge, and I think we all have days when we feel we can’t cope, but somehow we muddle along and get through it, one day at a time. Going back to work inevitably going to be a challenge; but it can’t be harder than the first couple of days with a newborn! So for now I’m going to be optimistic about my return, enjoy my last week of maternity leave and buy a new work wardrobe!

If anyone has any tips to make the transition easier I’d love to hear them!

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First stay in a hotel